Top 25 Moments in Women's Sports

These female athletes’ daring displays of skill will dazzle and inspire you.
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Fit at 41

Dara Torres medals at fifth Olympics Women all over the world applauded when swimmer Dara Torres, a 41-year-old mother of two, entered her fifth Summer Olympics-with a rock hard body to-die-for and an unyielding drive to succeed. Nearly three times as old as her youngest teammate, Torres scooped up her first of three silvers on August 17, 2008. Her career-spanning total of 12 medals now ties for the female record in the sport.
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Battle of the Sexes

Billie Jean King makes a racket Sure, there have since been whispers that the whole thing was a set-up, but back in September 1973, there was no bigger news story than pitting Billie Jean King, the top-ranked female tennis star, against Riggs, a onetime Wimbledon winner and "misogynist" has-been, then 55. King’s sure and steady hand stole the match, netting the female star fans worldwide and making Riggs an asterisk in the history books.
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Overcoming the Odds

Wilma Rudolph outruns a painful past The last thing Wilma Rudolph should have become is a runner—let alone the fastest woman in the world. Born prematurely, she suffered through a series of illnesses as a child, including polio, which paralyzed her left leg. Although doctors thought she would never walk again, Rudolph regained full mobility by age 12 and competed in her first Olympic Games at age 16. Four years later, in 1960, she sprinted in record-breaking fashion to three gold medals, becoming the first American woman to tally three first-place finishes in a single Olympic Games.
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Perfect Putt

Lorena Ochoa triumphs at St. Andrews Spectators grew hushed on August 6, 2007, as this Guadalajara-born golf star, then 25, approached the final hole at the British Open. When she sank the shot, the grounds erupted in a frenzy of clapping and cheers: Ochoa had just become the first woman to win a championship at Scotland’s hallowed course, perhaps the most sacred bastion of golf for men. She went on to dominate the women’s sport until she retired this year, at age 28.

One-Woman Show

Babe Didrikson sweeps the competition Mildred "Babe" Didrikson may be best known for winning an astounding number of golf tournaments and helping start the LPGA, but this talented multisport athlete first turned heads at the Amateur Athletic Union track and field championships. On July 16, 1932, over the course of three hours, she took first place in six of the eight events she competed in and set world records in the javelin, 80-meter hurdles, high jump and baseball throw. Her performance was good enough to earn her the overall title as well; she scored eight more points than the runners-up, a 22-person team.
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Queen Pin

Kelly Kulick bowls the big one On January 24, 2010, this secretary from Union Township, New Jersey, entirely rewrote the rules of men’s bowling by throwing 10 strikes to win the Professional Bowlers Association Tournament-the first woman to do so. Competitor Chris Barnes shook his head as she trounced him by 70 points-thrilling fans carrying "Girl Power" signs. "History has been made in the world of sports," she said.
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Romanian Wonder

Nadia Comaneci earns a perfect 10 What little girl in the 1970s didn’t want to emulate this tiny gymnast, whose beribboned ponytail and coach, Bela Karolyi, became famous worldwide? Her final back flip off the uneven bars in the 1976 Summer Olympics landed her the sports’ first perfect score at the Games, not to mention the cover of thousands of newspapers. Today, this mom lives in Oklahoma and, with her husband, Olympic champ Bart Conner, teaches the next generation of mat stars.

Girl Powder

Picabo Street kills the Super G It was a remarkably sunny day at the Nagano Winter Olympics, but there was a shadow over alpine skier Picabo Street. As she waited at the top of the super giant slalom course, her skis poised to race, she was still reeling from the after-effects of surgery on a busted knee, and a horrid accident in which she’d slammed her head just weeks before. Yet 1:18:02 later, she roared to a stunning finish, notching a gold metal.

Equal Playing Field

Bunny Taylor pitches a no-hitter Proving that girls only need a chance to be able to play at the same level as boys, Bunny Taylor is reputed to have pitched a no-hitter just months after the New Jersey Superior Court ruled that Little League Baseball has to allow girls to play. The 1974 decision ended a 23-year ban and was the result of a lawsuit that the National Organization for Women brought against the League on behalf of Maria Pepe, a 12-year-old Hoboken girl who was kicked off her local team.

Having a Ball

Brandi Chastain’s bra-baring celebration This moment at the 1999 Women’s World Cup finals probably launched a thousand women’s soccer careers. After scoring the game-winning penalty shot against China, defender Brandi Çhastain yanked off her shirt, fell to her knees with fists raised, and let out a primal roar. The absolute joy of her victory celebration-as well as her ripped abs-enthralled viewers and commentators alike.

Strokes of Genius

Gertrude Ederle swims the Channel Modern feminism was in its infancy on August 6, 1926, when Gertrude Ederle, a 19-year-old New Yorker, became the first woman to swim the English Channel. In just 14 hours and 31 minutes, some of it which she passed singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" (according to the New York Times), Ederle reached England almost two hours faster than anyone had done before.
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March Madness

UConn gets nothing but net In 2009 and 2010, the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team heard the sweet swish of success. Thanks to an unending string of wins, it nabbed the NCAA title two years in a row, an accomplishment some attributed to the team’s great spirit, quick reflexes and intense determination. In May, President Obama-a noted basketball fan-called them "the best team in all of sports, any sport, any gender, so far."

Raising the Bar

Stefka Kostadinova jumps higher She may be little known in the States, but she’s big in Bulgaria: At the 1987 World Championships in Athletics, Stefka Kostadinova leaped an astounding six feet and 10.28 inches in the high jump to become the women’s world record-holder-a title that she still holds today. Her past experience comes in handy in her current job, too. She’s president of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee.

Bon Voyage

Jessica Watson circles the globe Veteran dock hands said she couldn’t do it, and strangers complained that she was too young. But on May 15, 2010, this 16-year-old from Queensland, Australia sailed into the record books by becoming the youngest person to complete a solo boat voyage around the globe. In 210 days, she covered an astounding 23,000 nautical miles without stopping for assistance-and she didn’t even have her driver’s license yet!

Dark Horse

Julie Krone tops Belmont Stakes Jockeys need to be small, light and impeccably trained to work with the horses they ride, all qualifications that would seem to suit a woman well. Yet it wasn’t until June 5, 1993, that a female jockey, Julie Krone, placed alongside horse racing’s greatest by winning the Belmont Stakes. Expertly guiding her bay colt Colonial Affair to an upset, she became the first woman to seize a Triple Crown title. A film is being made about her life right now.
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First Faceoff

US women’s ice hockey grabs the gold In 1998, the first year women’s ice hockey was included in the winter Olympic games, Team USA grabbed the gold metal, defeating rival Canada 3-1. They finished the tournament undefeated, outscoring their opponents 36-8 over the course of six games. Their success earned them Team of the Year distinction from the United States Olympic Committee and helped fuel the growth of girl’s hockey across the country.

Batter Up

Jennie Finch strikes out the competition Few people had really heard about the US Women’s Softball Team before the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, when Jennie Finch, a pitcher with a 71-mph arm, caught the public eye. The telegenic blond discussed the merits of her sport on every newscast-but she really proved her mettle when she struck out 13 women during the games, helping her teammates to an almost-total rout that won the Americans the gold.

Spinderella Story

Tara Lipinski rules the ice Executing graceful double axels, triple flips and figure eights as she flew around the rink at the 1998 Winter Olympics, Tara Lipinski, a 15-year-old, became the youngest person ever to earn a gold medal for figure-skating. Her ebullience charmed the crowd (which had previously only had eyes for Michelle Kwan), and she soon became America’s sweetheart. That April, she announced she was going pro.

Lucky Seven

Jackie Joyner-Kersee goes out with a bang It wasn’t necessarily her most famous accomplishment, or her fastest: Jackie Joyner-Kersee was, after all, a legend, a four-time Olympian who had set myriad track and field records in the decades before she decided to retire. But on August 12, 1998, at the Goodwill Games, the star, then 36, pulled out all the stops in the heptathlon, winning that event for what she knew would be the last time ever. Her moving attempt broke the world record.

Sibling Rivalry

Venus plays Serena at the US Open Watching Venus and Serena Williams square off at the 2001 U.S. Open triggered feelings of pride—and awe that so much talent landed in one family. Big sister Venus snatched the championship from her sibling in a widely watched match, but Serena would come back for justice a year later, trouncing her sis at the 2002 US Open. At every step, they supported and delighted in each other’s success.

Speed Racer

Danica Patrick snags Indy trophy She’d long been known for her striking good looks off the track, but when NASCAR Danica Patrick rocketed through the finish line at the Japan 300 on April 20, 2008, everyone finally realized that she was a contender, too. It was the first win for a woman in an Indy race, and Patrick refused to apologize when she broke down in tears: "I said, ‘Screw it, this is how I feel, and this is what sports are all about!’" she told USA Today.
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Pitching Phenom

Eri Yoshida goes pro Score one for the ladies: In November 2008, Eri Yoshida, a 16-year-old student with a kick-ass knuckleball, was drafted to play for Japanese minor league team the Kobe 9 Cruise, making her the first woman in that country to join the professional baseball league. In 2010, at an age when many young American women might be thinking about the prom, she crossed the Pacific to pitch for a California minor league team, the Chico Outlaws.

Tough Tumbler

Kerri Strug takes one for the team It was July 23, 1996, and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team was on a quest to get a gold medal, but Kerri Strug had ripped two ligaments in a previous exercise. Suddenly she bounded ahead and executed a near-perfect vault that hushed the entire room. When she stuck her landing, the crowd went wild. The U.S. won.
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26-Mile-High Club

Joan Benoit-Samuelson sets record She wouldn’t win the first Olympic women’s marathon until the next year, but in 1983, this 25-year-old running coach from Boston University showed up on the radar by setting a new world record at the Boston Marathon, which she completed in 2:22. At age 50, she broke records once again at the Boston Olympic Marathon Trials, completing the 26-mile race in 2:49-faster than any other U.S. woman her age.

Triple Threat

Sarah Reinertsen becomes an Ironman Many athletes cower at the thought of competing in the Ford Ironman World Championship-a grueling triathlon that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. Sarah Reinertsen, who was born with a birth defect that required her left leg to be amputated, dared to do it on one leg. Unfortunately, her first attempt in 2004 ended in tears: She missed the time cut-off on the bike leg by 15 minutes and was disqualified. A year later she returned fitter and with new resolve: Throughout the race, she repeated the mantra, "Tougher than the rest. Show ‘em that you’re tougher than the rest." Fifteen hours and five minutes later, in front of throngs of cheering fans, she became the first female above-the-knee amputee to cross the finish line.

NEXT: The Sport That Changed Everything for Five Women


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